Tips for dealing with self-isolation

COVID-19 has disrupted daily life across the country, resulting in a strange new normal. You might feel afraid, lonely or isolated. But there are some things we can all do to try and find a sense of normalcy during an increasingly unnerving time. Experts from Yale New Haven Health shared their advice below:

Stuck at home:

Frank Fortunati, MD, JD, vice chief of psychiatry at Yale New Haven Hospital said staying home for prolonged periods of time by itself will not have a negative impact on mental health. But what will have a negative impact is a lack of a routine, lack of sleep, exercise and a healthy diet.

Dr. Fortunati recommends sticking to a schedule that includes time for work, family and socialization. Schedule phone calls and rely on video chats to stay connected.

“For those who have to stay home to stay safe, they should be proactive in reaching out in a very regular way to those in their life that they normally would have interacted with,” Dr. Fortunati said.

Elderly adults who are used to going to a senior center every day should schedule calls with friends from the center, or set check-in times with family members. Parents juggling the demands of child care and work at once should use this time to set an example for their kids. Explain that when mom and dad are working, that’s a time to focus on homework, a game or puzzle. Parents shouldn’t beat themselves up if they’re struggling to balance it all.

“Just like we don’t expect our kids to learn how to do everything perfectly the first time, we’re going to struggle as we’re learning new things, and new ways of dealing with the day and things that are outside our comfort zone,” Dr. Fortunati said.

“We should give ourselves a break.”

If you see that a friend or family member is struggling, reach out to offer support. Warning signs might include an increase in alcohol use, inability to sleep and an increasing fear of going outside.

Eating at home:

Staying at home for work poses another challenge: Sticking to a healthy diet. Ellen Liskov, registered dietitian nutritionist at Yale-New Haven Hospital, suggests setting meal and snack times. If you’re not an accomplished chef, even pasta can become the base of a well-rounded meal.

“Pasta is a misunderstood food,” Liskov said. “If you want to do more pasta meals, use some frozen vegetables or fresh if you have them on hand to do a pasta primavera. You can use leftover cut up chicken, meat or seafood to extend the pasta.”

Pantry ingredients including canned beans or lentils are healthy plant-based proteins that can be used for stews or casseroles. So is peanut butter, which Liskov said can be added to hot cereal or used to make a sauce. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t have every ingredient needed to follow a recipe. Liskov said some easy swaps are using half the amount of dried herbs if fresh ones aren’t available, use one tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with one teaspoon of water to replace flour in sauces or gravies, and substitute vegetables and grains for whatever you have on hand. Don’t have rice and spinach? Try broccoli and quinoa.

Staying active:

The Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition, recommends at least two and a half hours of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week and muscle strengthening activities at least two days per week for healthy adults. But Peter Ronai, clinical professor of exercise science at Sacred Heart University, and a clinical exercise physiologist at Bridgeport Hospital, said it’s important to try and move every single day, especially now.

Go for walks or jog outside as long as you practice social distancing. If you don’t have any gym equipment at home, rely on your body weight for exercises, climb stairs, jog in place, add in jumping jacks, pushups, crunches, pull-ups and elastic resistant band exercises.

“I don’t think this is necessarily the time to be thinking about looking better, or how the clothes fit or any of those things. I think the emphasis now has to be about feeling better. Not feeling lethargic, preserving and improving our mental health, our outlook, by moving,” Ronai said.

The key is to focus on consistency, even if that means breaking up movement into short breaks.

“Just do a little bit every day. Just think about it from the inside out. Think about, ‘I’m making a little investment today, the best I can for my internal health, for my mood and to avoid a situation taking control of me,’” Ronai said.

For more information:


Questions?

Call 833-ASK-YNHH (833-275-9644).

Yale New Haven Health is offering a call center for patients and the community who have questions about COVID-19. Healthcare professionals from the health system are available to answer your specific questions 7 days a week, 7 am – 7 pm. 

Yale New Haven Health includes Bridgeport Hospital, Greenwich Hospital, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, Westerly Hospital, Yale New Haven Hospital, which includes Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, and Northeast Medical Group.